“Networking is not about collecting contacts. It is about planting relationships.” MiSha.
The New York Times just ran an article this weekend titled Good News for Young Strivers: Networking is Overrated. The article describes networking as schmoozers getting together just to be seen and heard. The author laments that we focus on who you know instead of focusing on accomplishing great things, which, he argues, helps you develop a network. His belief is that “Networking alone leads to empty transactions, not rich relationships.” We agree on this last point – you can shake 100 hands but get to know no one. It is also true that doing good work helps open doors and can attract connections. However, people can’t connect to you if they don’t know who you are, and good work can’t be discovered if it can’t be found. I think it’s time to redefine what networking is and how to make it valuable for all parties. Networking requires three essential ingredients to be effective: connection, collaboration, and conscientiousness. No artificial sweeteners or flavors included.
Connection: Networking is not sending a stranger a LinkedIn invitation. It is not measured in business cards. Networking means connecting with someone because you are interested in their expertise. It also means showing your appreciation for their time by being prepared and respectful of their time. The book The 20 Minute Networking Meeting has some great tips on how to effectively connect during networking sessions. The key takeaways are:
- Be prepared. Be on time– in fact be early. Stick to your scheduled time. Plan what you want to cover in advance. Google your contact in advance so you know their background and current role/projects.
- Focus on discussions, not bios. Give a one minute overview on yourself (yes one minute). Don’t ask them to walk through their background- you should have already reviewed it. Don’t ask anything you could find out online. Do use your time to get 3 insights: For example, what do they think about X? Or, I noticed that you did Y- I’d love to hear more about how you did that. Or I’d like your advice on Z – and to share my thoughts for your feedback.
- Ask for three more contacts. Good people know good people. Based on your discussion ask who else they know that has a similar interest or expertise they would recommend you chat with. Be sure to follow through and connect with those individuals and show your gratitude for their generosity.
As a rule people are incredibly giving of their time. It is up to you to invest that time wisely so that you make a good impression and a meaningful connection.
Collaboration: Networking is the act of both getting and giving. You should be getting information, advice, and contacts during your networking meeting. You should also be giving that individual something in return. After your meeting follow up with an article he/she might be interested in. Offer to connect him/her to people in your network. Post about the work this individual is doing and help promote their project. Networking is also about paying it forward. We have all been – or will be – new to an industry, laid off, and/or working on a stretch assignment. Creating connections with up and coming talent, people in transition, and those new to an industry helps them build confidence and contacts. It also helps you build your network so that when you need some advice or help, you have a bank of goodwill to draw upon. Leadership is not based on power- it is the ability to empower. We all have the power to collaborate and connect, so be generous with your time.
Conscientiousness: Like any habit you want to build, creating a routine and prioritizing time for the habit is critical to making it stick. Networking feels like a chore if you view it as something that takes you away from real work and/or something competing for your time. However, if you think about networking as connecting to interesting people to collaborate with, you create a totally different mental framework. I once had a leader who was an exceptional networker. I finally asked him how he could keep up on all the people he stayed connected to. He showed me that he had created a spreadsheet of people he wanted to stay in touch with, wanted to get to know, and had collaborated with in the past. Every Friday he set aside 15 minutes to review his list and see who he had not talked to in a while. He then sent out a personal email to three people from his list stating why he wanted to connect and offered some potential dates/times. That simple approach kept the importance of connecting in his consciousness and helped him execute on his networking goals.
The truth of the matter is that the world runs on relationships. Right Management has conducted a multi-year study on how people find jobs, and every year networking is the number one source. Corporate America is not a meritocracy – you have to do good work and you have to have good connections to get ahead. Connections that are authentic are built on the desire to learn and share, and connections that last are built with intention. I encourage you to lean in, not out, when it comes to networking and plant rich relationships by striving for connection, collaboration, and conscientiousness.